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Jun 3, 2011

The wizard of Leoz, suicide is painless

Off The Ball never rests in its mission to scratch around the underbelly of professional football to find the most bizarre, humorous and inexplicable stories.

This week, Jack Wilshere wants to get in the face of the referees, Mario Balotelli takes the scenic route, a suicidal koala helps a Spanish club sell season tickets, Barca shake that booty and we preview the Dr Nicolas Leoz Cup.

Up for the Leoz Cup

It's been an eventful week in the world of FIFA, with more accusations levelled at those trusted with running the game around the world.

We'd already heard that Paraguay's FIFA Executive Committee member, the 82-year-old Dr Nicolas Leoz, had allegedly asked for a Knighthood in return for voting for England in the 2018 World Cup race.

When a Knighthood seemed out of the question, his aide turned to other targets. As part of the schmoozing process, Leoz was invited over to Wembley, which is also the Football Association's headquarters. But the FA was politely told it was a long way for such an old man to travel. However, he might make the effort should it be called the Dr Nicolas Leoz Cup. Or the FA Cup sponsored by Dr Nicolas Leoz maybe?

It's amazing what these shadowy old dinosaurs will demand in return for doing the job with which they have been entrusted. There's that spare plinth in Trafalgar Square; Leoz should just have asked for a statue on there.

He's not responded to this allegation, just like he ignores those Panorama claims that he pocketed $730,000 from broadcast company ISL to ensure that company won World Cup TV rights in the 1990s.

That said, England's holier-than-thou FA keeps claiming the higher ground, yet it did transpire that the FA considered creating an FA Disability Cup named after Leoz to honour his contribution to the Special Olympics. Differing levels of bribery obviously, but still playing a dirty game. And we won't mention the friendly against Thailand which was revoked when England failed to win...

The Dr Nicolas Leoz Cup sounds more like one of those horribly ill-conceived tournaments from yesteryear such as the Simod Cup or Zenith Data Systems Cup. Or maybe teams from England and Paraguay could take part in the Nicolas Leoz Cup? A modern day Anglo-Italian Cup, if you will.

Even better, why not just have all the "39th game" fixtures in Paraguay, and call it the Nicolas Leoz Game? Perfect. Winners all round.

Then there's Argentina's Julio Grondona, who apparently wanted the Falklands back for his vote. This is the man who launched a scathing attack on the English and journalists in general. This is also the man who, in 2003, said: "I do not believe a Jew can ever be a referee at this level. It's hard work and, you know, Jews don't like hard work."

A pain in the Barca

Barcelona's players decided to celebrate their deserved Champions League victory over Manchester United with a trip to see Shakira shake her infamous booty at the Olympic Stadium.

Being Shakira's lucky, lucky boyfriend, Gerard Pique (he'd be seeing someone from Hollyoaks if still at Old Trafford) managed to secure front row seats for his celebrating team-mates. But Shakira had been cooking up a plan to get the lads up on stage, as if they were at some kind of new-age hypnotist.

Pique, David Villa, Xavi, Pedro, Bojan Krkic and Sergio Busquets all found themselves dragged up on stage to strut their stuff to her hit Hips Don't Lie. Uncomfortable watching indeed.

In one of the most oddest displays seen on a stage since Shaun Ryder and Stacey Soloman's duet ("You're twistin' my melon, Stace"), the six players formed a line with Shakira in front of a sell-out crowd and, well, shuffled their bums about a bit. Louie Spence has nothing to worry about.

One thing's for certain, you could tell Pique was marking out his territory with Shakira when he stepped up on stage. As has already been said, lucky boy.

The Burger kings kill off a koala

Getafe, or Getafe Team Dubai as they should now be known, are not a club to shy away from an inventive marketing gimmick. Most recently it was a deal with Burger King, with the company's logo printed inside the shirts so it would be shown if a player celebrated by pulling their shirt over their head.

Now they've opted to go for the downright bizarre. It's difficult to envisage the brainstorming session which resulted in 'Rocky the Suicidal Koala Bear' being the focal point of their campaign to boost season ticket sales, but it's easy to imagine marijuana being in plentiful supply.

In a step forward from last season's effort which saw a two-faced man hatch an egg with help from David Silva, the Jamie Cullum-esque koala was first shown singing along while playing a piano.

The koala wistfully looks into a lake, before you then see scenes of him electrocuting himself, having taken an overdose of pills and gassing himself in his car. Watching that, the first thing I considered was a Getafe season ticket.

And, of course, koalas are native to Spain.

Les Harangues

In the modern era of respect, where the Football Association likes to censure managers for saying referees are good, Arsenal's Jack Wilshere seems to have got the wrong end of the stick.

Wilshere, who might now find himself on a media training course instead of being at the European Under-21 Championships, thinks Arsenal need to get in the faces of referees to end their six-year wait for a trophy.

We all remember the early years of Arsene Wenger's time at Arsenal when the players may as well have been dealing out red cards on the team coach, but those days are gone and the pretty boys don't want to get in trouble with the professor.

"It's no use just Robin van Persie going because it looks like it's just him having a go at the ref. If we all get round him..." Wilshere said. "You just see the other teams do it and you think 'we need to do it as well'. Man United are the best at it. They get round the referee. We have to be more of a team and be more aggressive and show more authority."

So, that's the answer. After six years of consistent failure Arsenal's new saviour thinks bullying refs is the answer. R-E-S-P-E-C-T indeed.

Balotelli opts for the scenic route

Mario Balotelli has a special place in the heart of Off The Ball, being a regular contributor as he is. But this time he has earned his inclusion for unexpected reasons.

While the rest of football's royalty will be living it up with the stars of The Only Way Is Essex and Geordie Shore in Malaga, Ayia Napa and Puerto Banus, Balotelli will be checking out the wildlife in Kenya and relaxing in England's picturesque Lake District.

This all seems a far cry from throwing darts at youth team players, driving into a women's prison and using a police compound as a parking lot for your car, but maybe Mario has decided to turn over a new leaf.

Our Mario is used to the less glamorous side of summer for footballers, though. In 2009, he went to a WWF summer camp at Sicily's Zingaro Nature Reserve. We can't help but get images of An American Werewolf in London out of our heads, with Mario waking up naked every morning in various parts of the Reserve with animals looking on in bemusement.

With 885 square miles for Balotelli to also explore in the Lake District, there are still plenty of places for him to get into bother before pre-season training begins again in July.


Video of the week

The Championship play-off final took place on Monday, with Swansea City winning promotion into the top flight for the first time in 28 years. After trailing 3-0 at half-time, Reading fans must have given up already, but two goals right after the break got them back into the game. One fan in particular got a little over-excited. BELIEVE.
Check out the freaky Reading fan right here.


More than words...


The voting nations are given little option in the FIFA presidential vote ©PA Photos


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